Safety Instrumented Systems / OpsManage

Achieving Safety Excellence: 'Can You Fly That Thing?'

Moving Workforce Enablement from Science Fiction to Reality


By Aaron Hand

Neo and Trinity stand atop a tall building, sizing up a formidable military helicopter some 50 ft away. "Can you fly that thing?" Neo asks. Trinity whips off her sunglasses to show Neo her high level of confidence as she responds, "Not yet." She then calls the controller: "Tank, I need a pilot program for a B212 helicopter." Tank quickly uploads the necessary know-how to Trinity's brain; she says, "Let's go"; and away they fly in the helicopter to annihilate the bad guys.

Although this scene from "The Matrix" is the stuff of science fiction, and most plant operators are not able to accept a direct data upload to their brains like Carrie-Anne Moss's character can, the idea is one that intrigues the safety experts at Invensys Operations Management. They're working to offer companies various strategies and tools to bring the fiction closer to reality.

Attendees of Invensys' OpManage'11 this week in Nashville, Tenn., have heard several presenters discuss workforce empowerment and workforce enablement. In his keynote presentation Tuesday morning, Sudipta Bhattacharya, president and CEO of Invensys Operations Management, talked of "empowerment at the edge." We've heard how important people are to any operation, and we've also heard that along with empowerment comes accountability.

Looking at a few plant safety statistics really brings all these points home. According to one recent study, for example, the No. 1 cause contributing to environmental, safety and health (ESH) incidents in the chemical industry is failure to identify hazards or analyze hazards properly. The second most common cause is human error and conduct of operations. "Combined, people not being aware of a situation or making a mistake when they encounter a situation is over 60% of the cause of incidents," says Charles Mohrmann, product marketing and strategy director, North America, for Invensys Operations Management.

In addition to possible injury or even loss of life, such procedural errors can lead to significant monetary losses. A major oil company recently had to pay $15 million in fines to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of a consent decree, $51 million in fines to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) related to one facility, and $20 billion in escrow to the U.S. government to cover potential costs of an oil spill. And this is hardly the exception, Mohrmann notes. According to a study from J&H Marsh & McLennan, the average cost per major incident related to operator error exceeds $80 million.

No wonder, then, that plant managers would like to see their operators get the information they need in a way that they can use it—and fast.

But, in fact, workforce enablement is hard, Mohrmann says, for a number of reasons, including an aging workforce and the difficulties in assimilating new workers quickly. "The problem is exacerbated by the fact that we've got regulations overflowing us, and nobody can keep up with it," he says. "It's not static; it's getting worse. You put effort forth to get to where you think you need to be one year, and then the next year it's different."

Traditional training can't keep up, Mohrmann adds. Although 90% of respondents to a McKinsey & Company study said that building capabilities was a top priority for their organizations, only 25% said their training programs are effective at improving performance measurably.

Managers want to know that their workforce is enabled to identify hazards and empowered to act on what they find, Mohrmann says. They want to know that an operator can handle the error potential in a process upset; that they know how to properly operate an important piece of equipment. "You want to know that he can fly that thing," Mohrmann says.

With the given workplace situation, the knowledge-on-demand scenario depicted in "The Matrix" is a compelling one. "We don't quite have that ability, but we're doing some things that are moving in that direction, Mohrmann says.

Everybody's goal is toward safer and more profitable operations. "Getting it right requires identifying and prioritizing where workforce enablement capabilities can best improve operational performance," Mohrmann says, including a range of factors to be considered within organizations, disciplines, locations, workforce enablement tools, scope, validation, justification and auditing. Targets include leadership accountability; protecting people and the environment; people and skills development; operations reliability and mechanical integrity; technical excellence, knowledge management and change management; and business competitiveness.

In one client success story, at Marathon Oil's refinery in Robinson, Ill., Invensys Operations Management was able to reduce process disruptions, decrease the cost of preventable abnormal situations, improve operators' situational awareness and provide other benefits through an alarm management program. The team conducted an alarm rationalization review of 14,681 alarms and developed a site-specific alarm philosophy. Ultimately, the plan increased annual production by 3% by avoiding unplanned outages.

With experiential learning through Invensys' IntelTrac mobile solution and operator training systems, companies are able to assimilate new workers in a quarter of the time, Mohrmann says. It also increases the confidence of operators to take corrective actions at the point of awareness and reduces the number of abnormal incidents and unplanned downtime through proactive behaviors, as well as a long list of other safety- and cost-related benefits.

Simply knowing your workforce has a high-performance culture can improve situation awareness, Mohrmann notes, which is very critical. "Future success must deliver execution of best practices at the point of incident for every person every day," he says.